Somewhere, near the beginning

I have always liked gardening. In my first year at university I lived at 56 Beaufort street in Grahamstown. The house was an old Georgian mansion – those who know Grahamstown will recall the building with its Yellow wood pillars and bay windows. When I lived there the house was pretty decrepit but the rooms were generous with grand fireplaces. The rent, including lights and water was R37.50c. Anyway, I set to work on the garden, weeding and planting but I was an undergraduate so I had a lot of other fish to fry and finally my sporadic efforts were brought to an abrupt end by an encounter with a terrifying spider.

Very many years later I bought my first house. It was also in Grahamstown (in Anderson street, opposite the now disused railway station) and like 56 Beaufort street, it was also large and run-down. It too had once been very grand. It had many fireplaces; high, pressed-steel ceilings; Oregon pine floors; bay windows, and large rooms. The building was on three stands and for a long time the garden had been a commercial cut-flower farm (roses and carnations) and for a considerable time after the flower-gardening ended, the yard had been a dumping ground for old fridges, stoves, dented aluminium kettles with holes in them, broken bottles, and so on and so forth. There were several lovely old brass taps linked to a network of galvanised iron pipes dotted around the garden, but the pipes were no longer connected to a water supply. The network of these galvanised pipes was still largely in place. The water had come from a massive underground cistern with a cast iron pump at its head but it had all fallen into disuse and the roof guttering no longer fed the tank. A very clever chap called David Pittman (his father Bernie taught me Latin at school) fixed the old pump but I never managed to run the taps in the garden because of the scarcity of water.